The pied butcherbird, a very musical species, provided a wealth of intriguing data for analysis by co-author Eathan Janney, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at CUNY’s Hunter College. Janney based his analysis upon years of data collected and also analyzed by violinist and biomusicologist Hollis Taylor of Macquarie University, who has previously published extremely detailed analyses of butcherbird songs. “Since pied butcherbird songs share so many commonalities with human music,” Taylor writes, “this species could possibly revolutionize the way we think about the core values of music.”
In the past, claims that musical principles are integral to birdsong were largely met with skepticism and dismissed as wishful thinking. However, the extensive statistical and objective analysis of the new paper demonstrates that the more complex a bird’s repertoire, the better he or she is at singing in time, rhythmically interacting with other birds much more skillfully than those who know fewer songs. The accompanying video includes a sample of a butcherbird’s solo song, as well as the song of another butcherbird and an Australian magpie.Paper. (public access) – Eathan Janney, Hollis Taylor, Constance Scharff, David Rothenberg, Lucas C. Parra, Ofer Tchernichovski. Temporal regularity increases with repertoire complexity in the Australian pied butcherbird’s song. Royal Society Open Science, 2016; 3 (9): 160357 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160357
It’s not so much wishful thinking as it is ridiculous. Absent the capacity for abstract thought, birds can produce pleasant sounds, but that is about it.
File under: Humans aren’t so special after all (in the age of euthanasia, where we are all “the fetus” now.
See also: Are apes entering the Stone Age? (No.)
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